The home of the Super Six football championships is temporarily closed.
Wheeling Island Stadium is undergoing repairs to shore up some failed concrete panels in the 10,000-seat facility, which has hosted the state high school football title games since 1994. The construction began Monday.
The repairs, which are set to wrap up by Sept. 25, have forced Wheeling Park High School to move 18 scheduled events from Island Stadium, including four Patriots home football games to West Liberty University and the popular OVAC Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Game on July 22, which was shifted across the Ohio River to nearby Martins Ferry, Ohio.
“Actually, things have been going pretty smoothly so far,” said Dwaine Rodgers, Wheeling Park’s athletic director. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope we’re done by [Sept. 25].”
Repair work by Colaianni Construction is scheduled to be completed more than two months before the Super Six state finals on the weekend of Dec. 1-2.
The situation began on April 14, when officials found structural damage to one of the concrete panels at the top of the stadium on the west side, closest to the Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino and Racetrack. Work to remove the panel sent an adjacent panel plummeting to the ground, crushing some fencing, but otherwise causing no damage. The area surrounding the stadium was closed at that time.
In all, three failed panels have been identified at the stadium. As a result, panels on all sides of the facility must be reinforced. A sealant will first be applied, followed by the placement of fabricated steel and reinforcement.
The work was originally expected to cost about $1 million, but Colaianni Construction submitted a bid to do the project for $407,000. The firm is located 18 miles away in Dillonvale, Ohio.
When the mishap occurred, it sent Rodgers scrambling to find alternate sites for affected Park home games. He was able to relocate the four football games to West Liberty, 12 miles north of Wheeling, and Wheeling Jesuit agreed to allow the Patriots to play soccer at Bishop Schmitt Field, a site that hosted the state tournament in 1998-99.
Home football games moved included dates against Brooke (Aug. 24), University (Sept. 15), Cambridge, Ohio (Sept. 22) and Parkersburg (Sept. 29). Park will observe homecoming during the Cambridge game, and its only true home game is set for Oct. 27 at Island Stadium against Parkersburg South on senior night.
“I remember walking back to my car after all that happened,” Rodgers said of the accident, “and I was very, very concerned. But once I started making some calls — the people around here are phenomenal. They helped us with open arms — Roger Waialae [football coach] at West Liberty, the people at Jesuit, even the 16th Street Field [J.B. Chambers Memorial Park] for practice and a few soccer games.
“Homecoming won’t be at our home, but we’re not traveling. In that regard, we’re very thankful. The [Ohio] Valley, again, is just full of good people. Many schools in the state wouldn’t have that luxury.”
Rodgers was also happy that no accident involving the concrete panels occurred during a sporting event.
“We’re very, very grateful it happened when it did,” he said. “I can’t imagine something like that when an activity’s there. If anything would have happened to someone, it would have just been a tragic thing. So in one sense, we’re blessed it happened in the manner it did.”
Of course, anytime a construction project is involved, there’s a chance of snags like cost overruns, manpower shortages, foul weather or — especially in the case of Wheeling Island — a flood. Island Stadium has already seen two scares since being awarded the Super Six games in 1994.
In mid-September of 2004, two months after the stadium’s first artificial turf playing surface was laid down, Wheeling Island was hit with a flood, and the field was covered by 10 feet of murky Ohio River water. Both Park and Wheeling Central had to move one home game each, but the turf was cleared and cleaned and ready for play a couple of weeks later.
Then in 2010, during the week leading up to the Super Six, the Island seemed destined to be hit by another flood, as projections called for an Ohio River crest several feet above flood stage. However, the crest came well below flood stage and the games went on as scheduled.
So the West Virginia SSAC, in monitoring the situation, has done preliminary work on a backup plan in case an emergency situation makes Island Stadium unavailable. That contingency plan includes University of Charleston Stadium/Laidley Field, which hosted the Super Six from 1979-93.
“We think they shouldn’t have any problem getting done in a timely fashion,” said SSAC executive director Bernie Dolan of Wheeling’s stadium repairs. “Even if they have a little bit of an issue, that’s a long way from Sept. 25 to Dec. 1, and we feel very comfortable they’ll have it done in plenty of time.
“But we have made contact regarding a backup [site], and the logical choice would be Laidley Field. We have had preliminary discussions with those folks at Laidley. We don’t think it will be necessary, but it was the next venue available.”
Rodgers said Wheeling Park officials will have a better grasp at how long the repair project will ultimately take after the first couple of weeks.
“Anytime you’re dealing with a project, anything can happen,” Rodgers said. “I have to admit, I feel pretty good about the information given us and the timeline. Who knows how things work? After they get started, we’ll have a better understanding.”